Tag Archives: Prince Edward Cannery

Well, I didn’t meet my goal for writing blogs in 2014, but it’s a new year with new hope and (more realistic) ambition -- one blog per month. So, here’s my January blog…

Wrapping up 2014

Goats: If you’ve been following our FB page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Middle-Fork-Farm/540326095986621), you already know we have 21 adorable, rambunctious goat kids -- 12 girls and 9 boys. They were all born in a very busy six-day period from December 9 - 14. The does gave birth so quickly that Bruce and Rick had to convert our 4 spacious birthing stalls into 6 less spacious birthing stalls to accommodate all the new moms and kids.

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With lots of family help, Sara and I tagged, vaccinated, weighed, and photographed all the kids when they were one week old. There was lots of chasing, laughing, and squealing by humans and kids alike (and occasional barking from Snickers and Doodle while barn cats, Jewel and Larry, came by periodically to make sure we were on task). We weighed the kids again this past weekend and they are growing fast—approximately ½ lb per day!

P1070610 We decided that we should pick a naming theme for each set of kids to help us keep track of each generation (we only name the does as the bucklings will be sold). Laura was captivated last year when she studied Greek gods and goddesses (Percy Jackson helped, too), so we decided to go with a Greek theme for this year. Not all the doelings are named but so far we’ve got Hera, Hestia, Aphrodite (of course), Artemis and Demeter.

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Vines and Wines: Rick and crew were busy in the fall winterizing the vineyard. This involved two key tasks: winterizing pipes and irrigation lines and “hilling” the vines. Hilling is just what it sounds like—making hills around each vine. This protects the grafted wood from freezing. As you might imagine, this can be a very labor-intensive process if done by hand. So, in typical Rick style he researched “hillers” and designed and built—yes, built —an attachment for our tractor to make the task more efficient. Yeah, Rick!!

IMG_2554Bruce has also been hard at work making our first vintages of red wine with guidance from his mentor, Matthieu Finot, winemaker at King Family Vineyards. These will be our reds when we IMG_2621open our winery/tasting room in Spring 2016! We had lots of help from family and friends in the fall sorting and processing the grapes before they could be made into wine.

We now have four varieties of red wine ageing in barrels. From these, Bruce plans to make two pure varietal wines and one red blend wine. Three of the four varieties have been “topped off” (in lay terms, the barrels were filled with wine so there’s no room for air) and will rest for a year. The fourth barrel still has to finish its 2nd fermentation.

In late fall, we began working with architect, Susannah Marshall, on the winery/tasting room/farm store design. We’ve picked a picturesque site between the vineyard and the woods and plan to start construction in the spring.

Strawberries and Spreads: The strawberries, like the vines, have been winterized. It’s a longer IMG_8568process because they go dormant much slower than the vines and not only does the foliage have to be trimmed but the wounds from the pruning have to heal before we can put them to sleep for the winter with a cover of hay.

We hope you’ve tasted our Strawberry Balsamic, Strawberry Lavender, and Strawberry Vanilla Spreads. They are available around town at Foods of all Nations, Great Harvest Bread, Jefferson Pharmacy, Michie Tavern, Salt Artisan Market, The Inn at Monticello, and The Bakery in Farmville. We also have 9 oz. jars available at the farm, but we are sold out of Samplers (note to self—make more Samplers in 2015!).

photo 1We received approval from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (VDACS) for our new flavors, Spicy Strawberry Spread and Ginger Lover’s Peach. They will be available through the farm and local stores in 2015. I am working on a new strawberry flavor (can’t disclose the flavor yet) and will write more after I finish experimenting with the recipe. Our farm kitchen now has VDACS approval so in the future we will make our spreads both at the farm and The Prince Edward Cannery. All of our spreads qualify for the VA Finest designation.

Last word on strawberry spreads…we are thrilled to be listed as an Edible Pick in the Artisan IMG_8569Issue (winter 2015) of Edible Blue Ridge!

A glimpse of what’s coming in 2015…

  • Prune the vines, then “de-hill” them
  • Uncover the berries
  • Plant more Merlot vines
  • Plant more strawberries
  • Wean the kids
  • Breed the yearling does
  • Start construction on the winery/tasting room/farm store
  • Open for Pick Your Own Strawberries starting late May/early June

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We are VDACS approved! Our spreads can now be sold at stores in Virginia! Sara, Pam, and I spent a long, productive day at the Prince Edward Cannery (http://www.co.prince-edward.va.us/cannery_index.shtml)

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In addition to receiving VDACS approval, we made lots of strawberry spread. At the end of the day, we were tired but very pleased to load up 347 jars of strawberry balsamic, strawberry lavender, and strawberry vanilla.

We got an early start with coolers full of 5 lb bags of defrosting strawberries as well as sugar, IMG_4724lavender, balsamic vinegar, vanilla beans and Pam’s amazing industrial immersion blender. It could easily be mistaken for a jackhammer. Sara and I were a bit intimidated by it, so there was no question that Pam was responsible for pureeing all the berries.

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Once we unloaded at the Cannery, Emily did the general orientation and began the paperwork process. Next, Chris, my VDACS inspector, went through an overview of the inspection process. Then we donned the very stylish hairnets and plastic gloves provided by the Cannery and got to work.

Sara and Pam were the best helpers I could have had—besides canning experience, each had specialized experience relevant to our task. In addition to operating the industrial size blender, Pam’s experience in a commercial kitchen meant she immediately knew how to use the tools, follow the necessary procedures for cleanliness, and keep the flow going.   Sara’s USDA experience paid off when it came to completing the paperwork, documenting the process, and generating our batch code system. Thank you Sara and Pam! My job to actually make the spread and answer questions posed by Chris, was from my perspective the easiest.

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Sara and Pam were as impressed with the giant steam kettles and 2 minute dishwasher as I had been on my earlier visit. At canning time, the thermal gloves were also a bonus. All of us liked the clean look of our new straight-sided 9 oz jars and appreciated the timesavings generated by the single piece lids.

After making the balsamic spread and before making the vanilla spread, we had a very enjoyable lunch (and caffeine) break at the Fishin’ Pig in Farmville (http://www.fishinpig.com/). By the time, we thoroughly cleaned the Cannery, packed up our boxes, and drove home it was a 12-hour day!

We still have to label all those jars, with our beautiful new labels, but that is getting done IMG_4735slowly on an as needed basis. We discovered that placing a rectangular label on a round jar can be challenging, so Bruce designed a jar holder to assure that the labels go on straight (old engineers never stop engineering, they just become farmers and make everyone’s life easier).

In addition to the Fluvanna Farmers Market and Farmers in the Park, you can now buy our spreads at the following locations:

Great Harvest Bread, Charlottesville (http://greatharvestcville.com/)

Jefferson Pharmacy, Palmyra (http://jeffersondrug.com/)

Salt Artisan Market, Charlottesville (http://saltcville.com/)

The Bakery, Farmville (http://www.thebakeryfarmville.com/)

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Last week, I spent a busy day at Virginia Food Works/Prince Edward Cannery and began the Cannery_Cannery Borderprocess to sell our fruit spreads commercially.  With the help of Emily Wells, the commercial manager, I finalized my recipes, learned to use the canning equipment, and made test batches of yummy strawberry spread.

I went prepared to make our three favorite varieties: strawberry-vanilla, strawberry-lavender, and strawberry-balsamic. I used the approved Virginia Food Works strawberry jam recipe but added our special ingredients for each variety.   I was excited because their recipe used Pomona Pectin, a brand of pectin that requires far less sugar than the pectin available at the grocery store.  In fact, it uses twice as much fruit as sugar!  Maybe we should call our spreads No Guilt Strawberry Spread?

The night before I cleaned and prepped about 25 cups of strawberry puree (I used an immersion blender—one of my favorite kitchen tools-- but kept some chunks).  Unfortunately, our stash of frozen strawberries from last summer’s harvest was not enough and I had to buy some fresh berries.  I couldn’t resist tasting a couple while hulling them with my new OXO strawberry huller.

Wow, the flavor of store bought strawberries picked days ago and shipped to VA does not compare to fresh picked berries!!  They may be pretty but they lacked the amazing sweet flavor and aroma that makes fresh berries (especially our berries) so delicious.

After processing the berries, I made jars of puree for each variety.  For the strawberry-vanilla spread, I split and scraped 2 vanilla beans and put them in the berry puree to soak overnight.  I pre-measured the sugar for each batch, and packed a pouch of culinary lavender and a bottle of balsamic vinegar.  It was kind of like packing a strawberry picnic.

Emily began by going over the rules and regulations for using the Cannery and the related paperwork.   A lot of the do’s and don’t were familiar like I had to wear a hairnet, wear gloves in the food area, and wash my hands frequently--because I spend a lot of time with the animals or in the garden, I’m a compulsive hand washer so except for the plastic gloves this seemed pretty normal.  The dishwashing process used three sinks (soap, rinse, sanitizer) just like I remember using ions ago when the girls went camping with the Girl Scouts.

After Emily reviewed all the procedures with me, she brought out her cool tools---scales, thermometer, and pH meter.  We carefully calculated amounts in both volume and weight for each ingredient.  And then finally, we made fruit spread!

Since I was making micro-batches we used the smallest kettle, which was a mere 20 gallons. I equipment2guess its not surprising that everything is big—it is after all a commercial kitchen.  The kettle is not a kettle you set on your stove—it’s attached to the floor and heated by steam!  (Kind of like a witch’s cauldron but not black). First, we made the strawberry-balsamic then we cleaned everything (using the three sink protocol) and repeated the process with the strawberry-lavender and then the strawberry-vanilla.

Some parts of the process were just like home canning and some like testing the pH of the fruit and then of the mixture were not at all familiar.  We also checked the temperature of the fruit spread before putting it in jars and then instead of using a boiling water bath, we inverted the jars.  The jars, of course, had to be sterilized but we did it in 2 minutes in the Cannery’s new dishwasher—I want one like this at home!!

At the end of the day, I had 21 jars of very tasty strawberry fruit spread.  I know because Emily and I sampled each variety and gave it 2 thumbs up.  StrawberrySpread

So basically, getting our spread approved for market requires 4 steps.  My day at the Cannery fulfilled Step 1, becoming familiar with the rules, regulations, and procedures, working out recipe details, and making a test batch of each variety.   Step 2 is submitting the recipes for approval, which can be done at the same time as Step 3, designing food labels.  The Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (VDACS) must then approve the labels. Finally, step 4 is scheduling a state inspection visit at the Cannery after the recipes and labels are approved.

Hopefully, this will all come together before strawberry season!
In the meantime, stay tuned for recipes using our strawberry spreads.